Strega Nona's Gift


In Strega Nona's village, the holiday season is a time of celebrations - and nothing says celebration like a feast! All the kitchens are bustling from the Feast of San Nicola, when the children choose the food, to the Feast of Epiphany, when someone gets to be king or queen for the day. Even the animals share in the holiday spirit, and when Big Anthony smells the delicious treats Strega Nona is cooking for them, he decides that just a taste couldn't hurt, right? Wrong! Big Anthony gets his just desserts, while ...

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In Strega Nona's village, the holiday season is a time of celebrations - and nothing says celebration like a feast! All the kitchens are bustling from the Feast of San Nicola, when the children choose the food, to the Feast of Epiphany, when someone gets to be king or queen for the day. Even the animals share in the holiday spirit, and when Big Anthony smells the delicious treats Strega Nona is cooking for them, he decides that just a taste couldn't hurt, right? Wrong! Big Anthony gets his just desserts, while Strega Nona surprises everyone with a special gift.

Starring two of Tomie dePaola's best-loved characters, this funny story features beautiful art, introduces young readers to Italian holiday traditions, and lands Big Anthony in yet another silly predicament that will delight fans young and old.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Strega Nona and her entire Calabrian village are busy preparing for holiday feasts, from the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 to Il Capodanno (New Year’s Day) and beyond. On January 5, the eve of the Epiphany, when everyone traditionally cooks for their animals, Big Anthony can’t resist “Signora Goat’s” delicious food, and the resentful goat devours Big Anthony’s blanket. Too cold to sleep, Anthony misses out on the dreams of delicious food that Strega Nona’s magic grants the people of Calabria: “The walls turned into ricotta and mozzarella. Bedposts became sausages.” DePaola delivers a hearty sampler of Italian holiday traditions and seasonal cuisine. Ages 5–8. (Oct.)
The Horn Book
"Glowing watercolors in warm Mediterranean colors. . . . Community, piety, ritual, and food: Strega Nona and Tomie dePaola know exactly what Christmas is all about."
"A lively story. . . . Kids will enjoy the mischief and the turnarounds, shown with gentle humor in the joyful acrylic-and-watercolor pictures filled with food, singing, and dancing."
Children's Literature - Ellen Welty
Strega Nona and her assistant Big Anthony are back in a holiday adventure. There is a different feast for each of several holidays that happen in the winter months of every year. Strega Nona prepares food for each of them. For the feast to celebrate the Eve of Epiphany she has prepared special dishes for all the animals. For Big Anthony she has prepared plain noodles. She sends a delicious dream to all the humans but Big Anthony has eaten the food she intended for her goat and the goat has eaten Big Anthony's blanket in return. Since he does not get to sleep because he is too cold, he does not receive the wonderful dream that Strega Nona sent him and he is hungry the next morning. All ends well however because she gives Big Anthony a new blanket and a dish of the food she had prepared for the goat. Big Anthony gives the food to the goat and keeps the blanket, having learned his lesson. While the illustrations are as charming as ever, the story would have worked better with fewer holidays and more of the normal humor that readers have come to love in Strega Nona's previous adventures. There is a nice page at the end that describes all the winter holidays and how they are celebrated. Reviewer: Ellen Welty
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—Fans of Strega Nona and her bumbling helper will delight in this funny tale in which the many feasts of the holiday season are the focal point. All is well until the eve of the Epiphany, the special night when animals are rumored to talk and are therefore well fed by their owners. Big Anthony greedily consumes the goat's treats, and the animal retaliates by eating his blanket. He suffers a cold and sleepless night without receiving the dreams of bountiful food that Strega Nona sends everyone else in the village as her gift. When he finds the lucky fava bean in the Epiphany cake, he asks for a gift of a new blanket and a dish of delicious food that he gives to the goat as a truce. Infused with warm Italian flavor and decorated with dePaola's signature charming illustrations, this is a holiday selection that readers will savor.—Madeline J. Bryant, Los Angeles Public Library
Kirkus Reviews

DePaola's latest holiday contribution describes the eight traditional feast days of the Christmas season in Calabria, home of the consummate cook, Strega Nona, and her ever-hungry sidekick, Big Anthony.

The foods, traditions and legend for each feast day are worked into the text as the villagers celebrate each event together. On the eve of the Feast of the Three Kings, Strega Nona follows tradition and cooks delicious dishes for each of her pets, but poor Big Anthony gets only a plate of plain pasta. He gets in trouble when he helps himself to the goat's turnips, and the goat retaliates by eating Anthony's blanket. When Big Anthony is chosen as the king of the Feast of Epiphany, he chooses a new blanket as his gift from Strega Nona and a big dish of turnips that he gives to the goat as a peace offering. Strega Nona's larger gift is sending a marvelous dream of magical food to each of the villagers, with walls turning to cheese and bedsheets into sheets of lasagna. (Readers will probably want to know more about those delectable dreams.)

The information conveyed about the feast days is interesting, but Strega Nona and Big Anthony aren't at their top form in this effort, with little of the rich magical humor they are known for. (author's note)(Picture book/religion. 4-7)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399256493
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/18/2011
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 177,153
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaola ( is the acclaimed author and/or illustrator of more than 200 books for children and recent recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. He has received a Newbery Honor, a Caldecott Honor, the Smithson Medal and the Regina Medal. He lives in New London, New Hampshire.


Born in 1934 into a large extended Irish/Italian family, Tomie dePaola received his art education at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute and the California College of Arts & Crafts. Although he always wanted to create children's books, he spent several years applying his talents to the fields of education, theater, and graphic design. In the mid-1960s, he received his first commission to illustrate a children's science book. A year later, he published his first original picture book, The Wonderful Dragon of Timlin. Today, he is one of the most prolific -- and beloved -- author/illustrators in children's literature.

In addition to illustrating stories by other writers, DePaola has created artwork for collections of poetry, nursery rhymes, holiday traditions, and folk and religious tales. But, he is most famous for books of his own creation, especially Strega Nona ("Grandma Witch"), the beloved story of an old woman who uses her magical powers to help the people of her small Italian village. Written in 1975, this Caldecott Honor winner is still delighting children today.

DePaola admits that there are strong autobiographical elements in many of his books (Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, The Art Lesson, Stagestruck), but nowhere is this more evident than in 26 Fairmount Avenue, a series of charming chapter books based on his Connecticut childhood. Taking its name from the address of his family home, the series captures the experiences and emotions of a young boy growing up in the late 1930s and early '40s in the shadow of World War II. The first book in the series received a 1999 Newbery Honor Award.

DePaola and his work have been recognized with many honors, including the Smithsonian Medal, the Kerlan Award for "singular attainment in children's literature," the Catholic Library Association's Regina Medal, and several awards from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. In 1999, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts bestowed on dePaola the Lotte Jacobi Living Treasure Award for the body of his work.

Good To Know

  • Tomie dePaola's name is pronounced Tommy de POW-la.

  • Between college and graduate school, dePaola spent a short time in a Benedictine monastery before determining that religious life was not for him.

  • Using a combination of watercolor, tempera, and acrylic, dePaola's artistic style is best described as folk-traditional.

  • DePaola's favorite painters and strongest artistic influences are Matisse, Giotto, and Ben Shahn.
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